Only One Bid In Alaska’s Cook Inlet Oil and Gas Lease Sale

You could say that the December 30, 2022 oil and gas lease sale at Cook Inlet in Alaska didn’t go well. The lease sale held by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management resulted in only one bid for one tract. Hilcorp Alaska LLC, a subsidiary of the Texas-based Hilcorp Energy Company, submitted the bid for $63,983. The company already had 14 leases in the region.  

“Cook Inlet lease sale’s dismal showing proved once again that leaders must prioritize people and the climate over Big Oil profits,” said Nicole Ghio, Senior Fossil Fuels Program Manager at Friends of the Earth

The oil and gas industry has had little interest in Cook Inlet for years. Although Hilcorp submitted 14 bids in a 2017 lease sale, there were no bids in a 2004 lease sale and only two in a 1997 lease sale. 

The Biden administration had previously canceled the Cook Inlet lease sale due to “a lack of industry interest in leasing.” However, the lease sale was resurrected thanks to Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV). Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) made a deal with Manchin to secure his vote on the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022. That is why the IRA reinstates canceled oil and gas lease sales. 

“The Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 invests in the technologies needed for all fuel types – from hydrogen, nuclear, renewables, fossil fuels, and energy storage – to be produced and used in the cleanest way possible,” Manchin said in a statement. “It is truly all of the above, which means this bill does not arbitrarily shut off our abundant fossil fuels.” 

Nicole Ghio, Senior Fossil Fuels Program Manager at Friends of the Earth, urges lawmakers to oppose all new fossil fuel drilling and the Biden administration “to issue a new Five-Year Plan with no new leases.” The Biden administration was “justified” in first canceling the lease sale, she said. 

Fossil Fuel Exploration and Drilling Threaten Cook Inlet

Named for British navigator Captain James Cook, and part of the Gulf of Alaska, Cook Inlet is located in the North Pacific Ocean. Cook Inlet has an almost 50,000 square mile watershed, where two-thirds of Alaska’s residents live. Three rivers feed into it: Susitna, Matanuska, and Kenai rivers. Cook Inlet teems with various fish, including Pacific salmon, Pacific herring, pollock, and Pacific cod. There are numerous threatened and endangered species in Cook Inlet, including fin and humpback whales, the northern sea otter, Steller’s eider, and the 279 remaining Cook Inlet beluga whales. 

Oil and gas exploration and drilling pose a threat to Cook Inlet. Companies can directly discharge drilling waste into it, harming marine mammals and fish. Oil and gas drilling disturbs migratory birds. Oil spills are the ultimate threat, and the current draft environmental impact statement predicts a 19 percent chance of one or more large (over 42,000 gallons) oil spills occurring. 

Alaska’s oldest producing oil and gas basin is Cook Inlet. Fossil fuel exploration and drilling started there in the 1950s. Production peaked early in the 1970s at 230,000 billion barrels a day (bbl/day). It is currently at around 18,049 bbl/day. The Bureau of Land Management states that Hilcorp’s “efforts to increase the oil and gas production from these mature fields have proven successful.”

New Oil and Gas Leases Won’t Work

Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the oil and gas industry has cried that there is a desperate need for new offshore gas and oil lease sales. According to the industry, the lack of lease sales will cause an apocalypse. However, there is enough oil and gas in current leases in just the Gulf of Mexico, where current production levels could continue for over ten years. The oil and gas industry has enough oil and gas leases “to last for decades without a new sale,” according to Friends of the Earth. 

New oil and gas leases work against the goals of the Biden administration, which pledged to achieve a 100 percent carbon-free power sector by 2035 and a net-zero economy by 2050. Investing in research and development for clean energy is the way forward and the only way to keep global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. 

Image credit: chuck t on Flickr

Gina-Marie Cheeseman
Gina-Marie Cheeseman
Gina-Marie Cheeseman, freelance writer/journalist/copyeditor Twitter: @gmcheeseman

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